Arsenal and Liverpool serve up real English flavour
Just how English was the all-English Champions League quarter-final between Arsenal and Liverpool on Wednesday?
As English as bacon and eggs? Or as un-English as a croque monsieur served up by a French chef with a sense of humour working in a Spanish tapas bar somewhere in deepest Essex.
FIFA and UEFA are wrestling with this very problem right now. In essence they want clubs based in a country to eventually feature a majority of players developed in that country playing for the team.
But Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at the Emirates was more of a Spanish-French battle than an all-English one. The only Englishmen involved were Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher of Liverpool, while Theo Walcott came on as a halftime substitute for Arsenal. Justin Hoyte was on Arsenal’s bench and Peter Crouch on Liverpool’s.
There were four Spanish players on field at the start: Both goalkeepers (Manuel Almunia of Arsenal and Pepe Reina of Liverpool), as well as Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal and Fernando Torres of Liverpool. Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez is Spanish and Alvaro Arbeloa, an unused Liverpool sub, is also from Spain.
Arsenal fielded three Frenchmen: William Gallas, Mathieu Flamini and Gael Clichy with Abou Diaby on the bench while coach Arsene Wenger is of course French. Of the rest, two were South Americans, three were from Africa and another seven from other European ports of call including three from the Netherlands.
Those are just the facts. But the odd thing is this — the match was undeniably English in flavour. Although Liverpool defended like a great Italian team of old, the match was played at the typically high tempo pace seen every week in the Premier League. It had the feel of a classic encounter between two great old English rivals.
So does it matter if hardly any of the players were English? I’ve always thought that once a player pulls on the shirt of the club you support, you almost forget where he comes from and he becomes one of “your players”.
Should FIFA president Sepp Blatter think again about his 6+5 rule that would eventually mean the majority of players have to be either from the home country or developed there? After watching a superb game of football last night I am wondering whether it actually matters.
Mike Collett, London
PHOTO: Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas and Liverpool’s Lucas tussle during their Champions League quarter-final first leg, April 2. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh